56 Kms to Ushuaia
There is nothing like the feeling of fear. It comes in so many
forms. With respect to things that you get comfortable doing
and stop thinking about how to do it and just do it, like biking
or driving, close calls are what make my heart jump and my feet
and ankles tingle. Fear manifested itself in a number of ways
over a 24 hour period of time from June 3rd, around 7 pm to
June 4th around 6 pm.
It was about 2 pm on June 4th. It was clear and sunny and
we were atop the Garibaldi Pass about 1500 meters above sea
level. Snow and ice carpeted the road. We had just passed
the sign that said tire chains were obligatory. There were
areas of sheer, smooth ice and others where it was thin enough
to think it was just wet but it was, in fact, black ice. Still
other parts were just stretches of thick, layered ice with
grooves in it from the ice melting and chained tires passing
over it. Here was where it was easiest to find some sort of
We were so close to Ushuaia, yet there was this barrier between
us. Normally, it was a distance, a number of kilometers that
always seemed so far away, never an amount to consider completing
in a day’s ride. Today, however, the distance was so
short and Ushuaia was closer than ever and felt accomplishable
in one day. Yet this cold and icy, narrow and busy, twisty
and curvy road felt like such a wall. Getting to the top
of the pass was steep and slow and a little slippery but not
too bad. It was facing north so the sun melted things a bit.
After getting up and over though, it was downhill. For the
first time, I wished it was uphill and gravel so my tires
could dig into the uneven ground and grab rocks and dirt as
I went. Nevertheless, it was beautifully paved and covered
in inches of ice.
As I biked down, I had one foot sliding along the ground
and my brakes on slightly. The fear jumps into my throat,
down my esophagus, into my heart and down to my feet as the
bike slides sideways, almost out from under me. My grip tightens
even more, fighting the stiffness of wearing two layers of
gloves so I can wrap my thick digits around the handlebars and
brakes. My whole body compensates for this sudden change and
my foot that was sliding is now in brake mode. I regain control,
breathe, and continue.
This feeling of fear was more intense because I had already
felt the sting of a fall, and thinking of falling again on
such a tender spot was unnerving. The night before, I had
fallen on ice making a turn and went down rather quickly.
As I fell, I had tried to take my clipped-in foot out of my
pedal which turned my hip out more so and I landed directly
on the bone. That night, as I laid in pain, I wondered how
ironic it would be to get this far and have to quit the day
before. The very day of arrival to my final destination, and
that day only, would have to be relinquished. I thought about
that a lot the night of June 3rd. I thought about what I would
do if I really hurt my hip bad enough that I couldn’t
bike the last 100 kilometers. I also thought about dealing
with the recovery of a fractured or sprained hip. I was trying
to be so thankful that I had traveled over 20,000 kilometers
through 14 countries and only had to deal with some hip problems
(that were still unfounded), but I couldn’t help crying.
I couldn’t help feeling like I wished I had done it
all without one single issue. But how spoiled can one get?
Jeez. I woke up with a better attitude and said let’s
do this. It will hurt tomorrow just as much as today, so why
put off our final day.
Hmmm. Well, putting off the final day was kind of attractive.
In the middle of all this, I also had this feeling of this
trip being over. The destination I so wanted to reach was
within reach, but now I didn’t want it so quickly. I
wanted it. I wanted to be there. But I didn’t want to
have to stop biking after I got there. Well, in that weather,
it wouldn’t take much to talk me out of, but I didn’t
want to think about packing up my bike; putting it in a box
because she was done being used for this trip. Being on a
bike everyday was comfortable in so many ways: knowing what
I had to do each day and knowing how to do it; constant change
in scenery, constant readiness in dealing with cities and
being good at biking through them; cooking a well-rounded,
carb-packed meal in one pot with one knife and one spoon;
and occasionally showering, enough to not get sick, but apparently
not enough to keep Internet café clerks from spraying
air freshener really close to my computer booth. These things
were fun and I was having trouble thinking how to live and
enjoy life any other way.
All of this was in my head as I tried not to fall on the
next patch of ice. My hip was feeling marvelous. I thought
the biking was actually helping it, but, as a precautionary
measure, I had “reinforced” my right side with
other clothes bunched into my bike shorts. It looked like
I had a pretty bad calcium growth or some kind of tumor protuberating
from my hip. It made me look pretty lop-sided, but made me
feel better that if I were to fall, I would have some kind
of cushion. With each section of downhill on this crazy medium,
my body and brain grew more and more exhausted. It took so
much energy to constantly focus and be prepared to regain
control. Will had had a few falls, Orian with one. We were
tired and it was getting late. As it became obvious that a
storm was approaching right from the direction where we were
going, I doubted that we would be able to arrive that night.
To bike in such conditions at night was just stupid.
Another bothersome issue was that we were not sure how far
we were from the destination. You would think that there would
be some signs for kilometers left to the Southernmost City
of the Freaking World. Up until the Garibaldi Pass, signs
for the distance to Ushuaia overpopulated the road, almost
every 5 kilometers. Now, we had been riding for almost 4 hours
down this mountain, ever so slowly, and had not seen one sign.
We could only guess that we were 20 to 25 kilometers away.
As the blizzard closed in on us, the road seemed to get even
more slick. I knew we had to be low enough in altitude for
the road get a bit better and we had heard that 12 kilometers
before town, the road would improve dramatically. Orian and
I stopped a car to find out how far we were. We were still
15 kilometers away. Three more kilometers and we should be
in the clear. I was still wary and considered camping out
for the night. The blizzard was upon us and I felt like I
would rather walk my bike the 12 kilometers than set up camp
in this weather for the night. Just as I thought this, Orian
told me to feel out the road. There was no more ice, just
a thin layer of snow from the oncoming storm. I was happy
about this. We would get there tonight. The snowflakes were
huge looking out with my headlamp on and the lights of oncoming
cars made it difficult to see. I kept towards the side of
the road and followed the white line. It was downhill and
we picked up the pace. The snow was coming fast but I had
no doubt that we would make it. We saw the soft glow of the
town around a bend and as we turned the last corner, we saw
Will dancing around in the snow in front of the sign that
said, “ Ushuaia. Bienvenidos a la Ciudad Mas Austral
Del Mundo. Welcome to the Southernmost City in the World”.
We arrived at a hostel a few kilometers into town and parked
our bikes in a garage for the night. We unpacked some things
to take inside with us. That is when I noticed my beauty leaning
alongside the wall of the garage. I just looked at her, trailer
still in tow, partially unpacked. As the snow slowly fell
from her frame, melting into a puddle under her, I realized
it wasn’t snow; she was crying.
My year long bike trip from Alaska to Argentina was over. I did it.